SACRAMENTO, Calif. — President Joe Biden touched down in California Monday afternoon to tour damage from wildfires that have exhausted firefighters and challenged his administration’s efforts to keep pace with the fallout of climate change.
He’s expected to survey destruction caused by the Caldor fire, which has stretched across more than 200,000 acres and destroyed at least 700 homes since igniting a month ago. Although firefighters halted the blaze before it could damage South Lake Tahoe, toxic waste runoff and sediment from the fire threatens the watershed, and the nearby town of Grizzly Flats was decimated. Biden approved a federal disaster declaration for the area Sunday.
The president was greeted on his arrival by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state’s Democratic leader who is facing a recall election Tuesday. Biden is scheduled to campaign with Newsom on Monday evening in Long Beach.
Before arriving in Sacramento, Biden stopped in Boise, Idaho, where he became the first president to visit the National Interagency Fire Center since it was founded five decades ago. Biden’s trip west reflects not only political imperatives — Democrats around the country have rushed to help Newsom fend off the recall — but also his administration’s increasing focus on wildfires.
“You know the time of the year when the air fills with smoke, and the sky turns a little orange,” he said in Boise. “But that time of year is getting earlier every year.”
There have been an estimated 44,000 wildfires this year, with 5.4 million acres burned nationwide. Biden said people on the East Coast struggle to comprehend the scale of the destruction, which rivals the size of New Jersey.
“It’s just unfathomable,” he said. “They don’t full understand how big the West is.”
Biden said climate change will continue to worsen wildfires and other natural disasters.
“We can’t continue to try to ignore reality,” Biden said. “The reality is, we have a global warming problem.”
He added, “It’s not going to get any better than it is today. It only can get worse.”